Mahindra 'rise's onto global stage with XUV 500

True to its latest ad campaign that symbolizes ‘Rise’, Mahindra’s fantastic rise in the last couple of years shows no signs of slowing down. After low-key acquisitions of Indian manufacturers Kinetic and Reva that saw the company venture into hitherto unknown segments like two-wheelers and electric vehicles, the most recent high-profile takeover of the South Korean manufacturer Ssangyong moved Mahindra on to the global stage. All this resulted with Mahindra becoming India’s most valued automaker displacing Tata Motors from the top position. Amidst all this growth though, Mahindra had a problem and a big one at that. There was hardly a model in the company’s existing lineup that can compete on merit with other automakers in the advanced global markets. It is this fact that Mahindra hopes to change with the launch of its all-new crossover XUV 500 (pronounced as XUV five double oh).

Get over the initial struggle of pronouncing its complicated name and you are in for a shock. A shock, that is going to be a pleasant one for most of us but one that has the potential to be rude for quite a few of us too. Having been in development for more than three years now, Mahindra did an excellent job all along of hiding the identity of the vehicle up until the launch event. The numerous spy-shots of the test cars that came up in various websites and blogs did little to reveal its design and detailing. Now that it is finally launched, the XUV 500 looks mighty impressive and worth the long wait. And the biggest surprise of all has been the killer pricing with the three variants W6, W8 and W8 AWD priced at 10.8, 11.95 and 12.88 lac rupees respectively. At this price, the XUV 500 is not only going to make the Tata Aria, its chief competitor, run for cover but is also going to make life tough for Toyota Innova and Mahindra’s own Scorpio.     

The styling of the XUV 500 is certainly a hit or a miss. In what has become the norm now for Mahindra, the company has yet again messed up the front end with the floating rabbit-tooth grille and the awful bumper with unconventional cuts and honey-comb meshes. There are a few other quirky design elements as well like the hump between the C and D pillars and the kink at the rear between the windscreen and the number plate. Nevertheless the overall stance of the XUV 500 is extremely impressive and there are a few terrific design elements like the trapezoidal projector headlamps with integrated Daytime Running Lights (DRL), the slingshot taillamps and the hugely attractive profile which looks to be influenced by the Range Rover Evoque and Mitsubishi Outlander. On the whole, the XUV 500 is a pretty good effort for an Indian company and quite remarkably, has an identity of its own.

Spare a casual look at the interior shots of the XUV 500 and I am sure you are going to be bowled over. The quality, the fit and finish, the materials used, the scooped-out twin-pod instrument cluster, the waterfall center console with touch screen and neatly laid-out buttons, the leather seats and quite simply everything about it looks and feels premium and lends a touch of class that is never seen before in an Indian automobile. If you thought the Tata Aria was loaded with features, think again. The XUV 500 comes packed with features such as six airbags, ABS, ESP with rollover mitigation, Hill hold, touch screen DVD player with in-built GPS and navigation system, automatic headlights, rain sensing wipers, tyretronics, puddle lamps, laptop holder in glove box, cruise control, tilt and telescopic steering and the list just goes on and on.

Powered by the 2179 cc mHawk direct injection diesel engine with a Variable Geometry Turbocharger with a maximum power output of 140 bhp at 3750 rpm and a maximum torque of 330 Nm at 1600-2800 rpm, the XUV 500 has a lot of grunt. Being a monocoque construction, its fair to expect the XUV 500 to have car-like handling characteristics without the unsettled high-speed behavior of body-on-frame SUVs like the Scorpio and Safari. All-wheel disc brakes combined with features like ABS, EBD and ESP will ensure that the vehicle comes to a stop as impressively as it goes. So, the XUV 500 looks to be a decent effort by Mahindra in cracking the global crossover segment. Though it may still not be as perfect as its global peerrs, its as impressive, if not more, than the Tata Aria. And with those killer prices, the XUV 500 has rung the death knell for a whole lot of other models in the price range.


Honda enters compact car segment in India with Brio

Until a few years back, Honda could do nothing wrong in India. Their models, be it the City, Civic, Accord or CR-V, each of them were top-sellers in their respective segments despite offering less features and being more expensive than competing models. The miserable failure of Jazz and the subsequent decline in sales of all its models ending with the company losing the leadership in every segment that it was present in taught a lesson or two to Honda. Honda has learnt it pretty well and has put it to good use in its new small car, the Brio.

Perhaps for the first time, Honda has launched a model in India with value-for-money pricing that has sent shockwaves across the industry. And the company could not have chosen a better model than the Brio for its new-found aggressive strategy. This is going to be Honda's first entry into the small car segment which accounts for more than 70% of sales in the Indian market. The Brio is launched in four variants - E, S, S(O) and V, priced between 3.95 Lacs to 5.01 Lacs ex-showroom New Delhi.

The Brio, with its modern and funky details, looks pretty similar to the New Small Concept car showcased at the 2010 Delhi Auto Expo. The front end is typical Honda with those small tear-drop shaped headllamps, a thick horizontal chrome strip in the grille and a short hood. There are two prominent lines extending from the top and bottom of the front bumper and moving up across the profile of the car. This is what Honda calls a double triangle. The rear is as funky as it can get with triangular taillamps and the large windscreen doubling up as a tailgate too. The Brio's design is not conventional at all and would be a hit or a miss.

Powered by the same 1.2 liter i-VTEC petrol engine of the Jazz that produces a maximum power of 88 PS @ 6000 rpm and a peak torque of 109 Nm @ 4600 rpm, the Brio would be one sprighty performer. The car can neither be termed feature-rich nor does it lack features and it all boils down to individual requirements. But who cares as long as its priced lower to the Swift, the i10 and even some variants of the Vista. Maruti-Suzuki, Hyundai and Tata should be really worried now as they know pretty well that Honda's brand image is as strong as ever and the Brio is going to eat into the sales of their models.


Hyundai Eon spied inside out

What you see here in this post are the clearest and best shots yet of the soon-to-be-launched mini car from Hyundai, the Eon. Thanks to a reader, who wishes to remain anonymous but says that he got these pictures from his friend who has close contacts with a popular automotive publication that test drove the Eon a few days back. The Eon is expected to slot in below the Santro in Hyundai's lineup and would be competing directly with Maruti-Suzuki Alto. In flesh, the Eon looks exactly similar to the official sketches released by Hyundai a little earlier.

Adopting the company's famed 'Fluidic Sculpture' design theme, the Eon, for the segment in which it is going to compete, is a stunner and there are no second thoughts about it. All the usual 'fluidic' design elements like the bold hexagonal grille with a horizontal chrome strip, the large and well-detailed head-lamps, steeply up-swept windowline and the characteristic curves across the body are all there in the Eon. These, combined with some aggressive detailing like the triangular foglamps, chunky wheel arches and huge taillamps matching the cuts and contours of the boot make the Eon look terrific. Having said that, there is no denying the fact that the Eon has been overstyled a bit and is not as clean a design as, say, a Punto or Polo.

If you are not impressed with the exteriors, you will surely be when you look at the interiors. These are the best interiors I have ever seen in a mini car. Period. The steering wheel, seemingly inspired by Hyundai's own i20, imparts a premium look and feel. The central console adopts the popular waterfall theme with silver inserts brightening up things there. The knobs and buttons look to be made of good quality and the black and beige combination make the interiors look a lot spacious. It's being widely reported that a lot of 'Indian' features like 1-liter bottle holders and storage spaces have been eked out in the Eon to make it that much more practical.

Most of the media have already driven the Eon and the reports suggest that the power, ride and handling are all on par or better than what the competition has on offer. If you do not know already, the Eon will be powered by a new 3-cylinder engine from the Epsilon family. Overall, Hyundai has done its homework pretty well and the result seems to be mighty impressive. So, has Maruti-Suzuki's long-held dominance of the A segment with the Alto under threat now? Well, yeah! Hyundai did that in the B segment with the Santro 13 years back and the rest is history. The Eon is all set to rewrite history, this time in the A segment. Watch out for the Eon!


Driven #6: TVS Apache RTR 180 ABS

You gotta love TVS for what they do. While every other two-wheeler manufacturer, both domestic and international, are content with churning out the same old models with an occasional nip, a tuck and a sticker job, here is one company which keeps pushing the technological barriers and comes out with models that sets the pace and trend in the industry. From the VTi technology introduced in the Centra to the most recent auto-clutch technology introduced in the Jive, TVS has always been at the forefront of technological innovations when it comes to two-wheelers.

So, it should come as no surprise that TVS has once again taken the initiative and launched the Anti-lock Braking System, a technology that should ideally become a standard in our country, given the unsafe road conditions. And they could not have chosen a better model for launching this feature than their flag-bearer Apache. The Apache RTR 180 ABS thus becomes the first Indian motorcycle to feature the life-saving ABS technology and more importantly, comes at a price that does not make it out of reach of common people.  

So, how is the ABS-equipped Apache to drive and stop? Do we feel the ABS kicking in during panic braking? Does it inspire confidence in us or is it just another gimmick? Is it worth spending the additional 12,000 odd rupees over the regular Apache RTR 180? A short drive in the new Apache RTR 180 ABS answered all these questions and much more. But, I don’t want to keep that last question unanswered even for a moment. Hell yeah, the ABS tech is worth every extra penny that you will shell out for it. Period.

The Apache, since its launch in 2005, has retained its basic shape and design till date. A mid-life facelift with a series of subtle yet significant changes boosted its appeal and as a result, the Apache still looks fresh and hot against the latest competition from Yamaha (FZ16, Fazer) and Honda (CB Unicorn Dazzler) unlike say, the Pulsar, which has started to look severely dated. Apart from its sleek and sexy sculpted body panels, another attractive element on the Apache range surely has to be the palette of colors on offer. Be it white, red, yellow, orange, black or grey, they all are stunners and the paint job is immaculate too. This particular ABS-equipped version of the Apache comes only with the unique white coat with contrasting black stripes.

There are certain striking design elements in the Apache RTR 180 ABS that makes it really stand out from the rest of the crowd. Details like the gold-colored petal disc up front, racy RTR stripes running along the length of the bike, the sub-fairing with the RTR and ABS stickers, the broad and muscular fuel-tank, the body-colored engine fairing, the gold-colored ABS system in the wheels, the striking twin LED taillamps and the broader 110/80 tires in 17 inch alloys make sure that you get as many stares on the road as you desire. Having said that, the absence of a full frontal fairing means that the ‘big-bike’ feel that you get, like when driving a CBR 250R or a Karizma ZMR, is not there.

Get closer and you will find that the fit and finish of the bike is top-notch in many areas but equally iffy in some other areas. The switchgear, for example, feels solid to touch, feel and operate and the clip-on handle-bars are great too. But the same can't be said about the rear-view mirrors which vibrate like hell at speeds in excess of 70 kmph. Also, the stitches in the seats have started coming off exposing the cushion and there seems to be a small misalignment in the position of the kick lever as it comes into contact with the leg brake lever when in operation. Those are not something that you expect in a ‘brand-new’ bike. Apart from that, the overall quality of the bike was good and it felt built to last.

The Apache RTR 180 is powered by a single-cylinder, 4-stroke, 177.4 cc engine capable of producing a maximum power of 17 bhp and a maximum torque of 15.5 Nm. Turn the ignition ON and the Apache settles into a nice and sporty groan. Though a bit loud, the deep-throated and sporty exhaust note is a big plus and a major part of the excitement of driving this bike. TVS, with its long racing heritage, knows a thing or two about power and handling and it clearly shows with the Apache 180 being one of the more powerful and nimble bikes available in the market today. Be it a quick start from standstill in a traffic light or cutting and making way through dense city traffic or a relaxed drive in an open highway, you say it and the Apache RTR 180 does it all without much of a fuss.

Though the handling is great and the bike is willing to lean into corners, the tires remain a sore thumb with grip levels not on par with bikes like FZ16 and Fazer. Nevertheless, one other area where the Apache RTR 180 inspires confidence in the rider is in braking, thanks to its Anti-lock Braking System technology. On paper, the ABS integrates sensors placed in both wheels with an Hydraulic ECU. With a constant stream of input from the sensors, this HECU can detect a potential wheel-lock. It then modulates the braking pressure to the wheels accordingly thus making sure the wheels don't lock which, in turn, eliminates skidding and improves stability in all surfaces, be it gravel or tarmac, wet or dry. That said, any technology is easy to understand as long as it remains a theory on paper.

But, how good is the ABS in real-world conditions? How does this technology help an average road-user? Back-to-back rides in a regular Apache 150 and the RTR 180 ABS gave us the answers.

Not much difference was observed between the two bikes as long as the roads remained smooth and perfect and there were no instances of panic braking. Then came some muddy patches of broken tarmac and the RTR 180 ABS immediately made its presence felt as soon as the brakes were slammed a little harder. Where the regular 150 encountered wheel-lock for a few seconds before it regained composure leaving you with a heart-in-your-mouth feeling, the RTR 180 ABS just sailed through with superb stability. Another area where we really felt the significance of ABS was in a gravel track. The RTR 180 ABS refused to lock wheels and remained supremely stable in stretches where the regular 150 repeatedly locked wheels and lost composure.

* Engine Type: SOHC, 4 Stroke
* No of Cylinders: 1
* Displacement: 177.4 cc
* Max Power: 17 bhp @ 8500 rpm
* Max Torque: 15.5 Nm @ 6500 rpm
* Transmission Type: 5 Speed, 1Down 4Up
* Tyres: 90/90 R17 (Front) / 110/80 R17 (Rear)
* Brakes: Petal Disc (Front) / Petal Disc (Rear)

On checking the TVS website coming back from the test drive, it's pretty clear that the Apache RTR 180 ABS is engineered to be equally at home negotiating wet patches and gravel tracks as it is on smooth tarmac. Overall, all I have to say is TVS, along with its ABS supplier Continental  has done its part really well in trying to bring this technology within the reach of thousands of Indians. But TVS can do nothing about the typical-Indian attitude of opting out of safety features to save a few thousands of rupees. Its up to each one of us to realize the significance of a life-saving technology like this and embrace it. Hats-off and way to go TVS!

Photography: Arun Varadarajan


2011 Frankfurt - Ford set to stun audience with the Evos Concept

Rarely do automotive manufacturers consider the concept of ‘concepts’ seriously and use them as basis for their future models. Rather, most companies prefet to relegate them as just show-pieces letting us drool over their looks and imagine the usefulness of the many techno gizmos that they come loaded with. Ford thankfully does not belong to this group and is known for bringing most of their concepts to production form with minimal changes. It was this fact that got me all excited on seeing this new Ford Evos concept. Are we at last going to have an affordable mass-market sedan that looks truly gorgeous?

To be unveiled to the public at the ongoing 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show, Ford gave a sneak preview of the car at a special media event organized in Berlin. Derrick Kuzak, VP, Global Product Development at Ford said during the unveiling - "The Ford Evos Concept unites three key elements which are at the core of our One Ford global product strategy: outstanding design, smart technologies and fuel economy leadership. With its compelling design and innovative vehicle technologies, it is a clear demonstration of the exciting vision we have for the Ford brand."

The Evos Concept looks like an evolution of the brand’s successful 'Kinetic Design' theme with quite a few sharp cuts and creases adorning the body. Featuring a typical Ford honey-comb grille, ultra slim headlights, lovely foglamps surrounding the twin airdams, diamond-shaped taillights and a chunky trapezoidal exhaust tip at the center of the rear bumper, the Evos makes a stunning style statement. Without a doubt, the four sculpted gullwing doors that open skywards and extends well into the roof are the most eye-catching design elements of the car.

Ford says that though the Evos Concept throws a sneak peak into the future design elements of the brand, this car will not make it to production in its current form. Now, thats hardly surprising. Heck, in all probability, the gullwings too won’t make it to production. But, do we really care? The innovative and futuristic approach of the Evos continues in its interiors and powertrain as well. Again, who cares? Even if Ford stays half-true to its tradition and come up with a production model which is at least partly based on the Evos, we are in for a visual treat.

The Evos Concept looks to be similarly-sized to C and D segment cars of our world. Imagine the next generation Ford Mondeo with such gorgeous looks, next-best-only-to-BMW handling, powerful yet fuel-efficient ‘Ecoboost’ engines, futuristic interiors loaded with features and an affordable non-exotic price tag. Now, that's what most of us auto-enthusiasts dreams are made of, isn't it? You may well argue that such a combination is possible only in dreams but the point is, with the Evos Concept, Ford has come tantalizingly close in converting that dream into a reality.


AL Nissan Dost undergoing final rounds of testing

The Ashok Leyland Dost that was unveiled to the public a couple of months back is significant in more ways than one. First of all, this is the first product to come out of the Leyland-Nissan Joint-Venture that was signed a couple of years back to make and sell Light Commercial Vehicles in India. Next, the Dost is yet another competitor to the super-successful Tata Ace that is still ruling the market even after the advent of a lot of competitors. Most importantly, it heralds the entry of Ashok Leyland into the LCV segment where it was conspicuous by its absence all these days.

The Dost has a lot of things going for it. The design is moderately attractive with the headlights with integrated indicators being the most impressive part. The protruding nose which gives the Dost slightly odd proportions takes some time getting used to though. With a 1.25 ton payload and bigger 14 inch radials, the Dost will be considerably bigger and ride better than the Ace and other sub-one ton LCVs. The cabin seems to be a nice place to be in and the company is even offering air-conditioning as an option in the top-end variant which is a first in the Commercial Vehicle segment.

The Dost will be powered by a 3 cylinder turbocharged common-rail diesel engine with a power output of 55 bhp. The company is planning to start full-fledged production of the Dost in the festive season after which the Dost will be available for sale through brand-new dealerships coming up across the country. Before the final launch however, the company is doing some final rounds of testing before pitching this all-important model in the market. This fully loaded test vehicle that looks alarmingly rear-heavy was spotted in the Chennai-Bangalore Highway a couple of weeks back.

Just like the U Truck did in the HCV segment and the Viking chassis did in the city bus segment, Ashok Leyland will be hoping that the Dost will create an impact and establish the brand in the LCV space. With more models from Nissan like the Atlas, Civilian and NV Series also being planned for launch in India, the success of Dost is extremely important for the very existence of this Joint-Venture between the two companies. From our side, here is wishing both the companies all success in their first endeavor. Maybe its time for Tata and the Ace family to roll up their sleeves further.

New VW Touareg and new variant of Polo seen testing

The German offensive in the Indian automotive market shows no signs of slowing down. With Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz continuing their relentless assault with new model launches one after the other, will Volkswagen prefer to sit behind and watch its peers in action? Close on the heels of launching the new Passat and the new Jetta in India, Volkswagen seems to be preparing itself for some busy times ahead. Need proof? A host of cars from the Volkswagen group including the new Touareg were seen testing together in Pune.

Like all the other cars in the group, the new Touareg was also without any camouflage indicating that the launch is not too far off. Up front, the new Touareg gets the now-familiar corporate look of Volkswagen that is seen on all its models starting from the Polo to the Passat. Horizontal slatted grilled with chrome strips flanked on either sides by clear trapezoidal headlights gives the new Touareg a more aggressive face compared to the rounded look of its predecessor. From the profile and rear, the Touareg remains largely unchanged except for the stylish new taillights.

Just like the Vento and Jetta, Volkswagen is likely to cash in on the diesel trend in India by plonking in its award-winning TDI technology into the Touareg. Being a Volkswagen, superb build quality and very high levels of fit and finish with a host of comfort and safety features can be expected. All these factors combined with its good macho looks and great off-roading capabilities gives the new Touareg the potential to lead it’s segment with the only dampener being Volkswagen’s lack of premium image compared to its rivals.

The Porsche Cayenne, widely considered by critics to be not quite as capable as the Touareg, comfortably outsells the latter in India due to the brand catchet of Porsche. Also, we all know the fate of Phaeton in India, the ultra-luxury sedan from Volkswagen which was in the news recently for being offered with a mind-boggling discount of 25 Lakhs. Will the new Touareg be in a position to do what the Phaeton didn’t and bring about a change in the perceived image of the brand? Let’s wait and see. The answer will be out in a few months.

Also seen on testing along with the new Touareg were many new variants of existing Volkswagen group models like the Polo and Vento and Skoda’s Fabia, Laura and Yeti. Though more details about these new variants could not be observed, one particular Polo even had steering mounted buttons in it indicating that the company is working to address the issue of Polo’s lack of features compared to the competition. With one of its major grouses all set to become history with this new variant, we can expect Polo’s sales to increase further.